Thursday, March 31, 2005

Wired for writing

As I've written before, author readings are one of the best things about Iowa City. Last night, George Pelecanos appeared at Prairie Lights Bookstore to promote his latest novel, Drama City. Pelecanos might be the best crime writer going right now. My frame of reference is smaller than it should be (I've only read two of his novels), but what I admire most about Pelecanos's work is its seeming authenticity. His dialogue, characters, settings all feel real on the page; nothing seems contrived or created. And judging from what Pelecanos said last night during his question-and-answer session, that is no accident.

I only caught the last half of the reading because of a night class, but it was worth the sprint across campus (okay, I don't sprint - but I was walking very fast). Not only do I enjoy Pelecanos as a novelist, but he also writes for one of my favorite TV shows, HBO's The Wire. And much to my surprise, many people in the audience admired Pelecanos for the same reason. I couldn't believe how many questions he was asked about his TV work. Whenever an author appears at a bookstore or on campus, there seems to be an unwritten rule that the discussion shouldn't touch on TV or film work. Maybe that's the influence of the Writers Workshop; we're here to write and talk about literature. Talking about scripts and adaptations - not to mention using cinematic techniques in our prose - is virtually frowned upon.

But Pelecanos was more than willing to talk about writing for The Wire, saying he probably wouldn't have written Drama City without the experience. His TV work has also allowed him access - such as riding with the Washington D.C. police - that he never would've received before. And he apparently isn't beholden to writing programs such as the Writers Workshop. One of the funnier moments of the evening was his sheepish admission that he'd never taken a writing class. "This is probably the one city in the country where I shouldn't say that," he chuckled. When asked what he thought of writing programs, Pelecanos artfully dodged the question and said he liked WordPerfect and Microsoft Word.

And I think that's consistent with Pelecanos's work - just create the characters, tell the story, delve into what's really going on, and above all, make it as real as possible. The process of writing and learning how to tell a story is important, of course, but eventually it comes down to sitting your ass down in front of that computer or notepad and pounding out what you want to say. I think that's something most aspiring writers need to hear regularly.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Who's the real baby?

While noodling around in my free time today, I scrolled through Gene Weingarten's weekly chat at Gene writes the Sunday "Below the Beltway" column for the paper. "Chatological Humor" is usually pretty funny (and a good way to kill 30-45 minutes); readers send in the strangest questions. Here was one that caught my eye:

College Park, Md.: I recently got into an argument with a woman coworker. Playing basketball (I am to basketball as to Gene's hair is to bald) I fumbled a pass and it hit me in the soft spot. Very painful. My legs went dead and tears came to my eyes. So I was laughing about that with a coworker who was also playing.

Anyway, a female coworker came in and said that men are such babies. We would never complain about that if we had to give birth. Now, this woman has NO CHILDREN! She has no idea if birth even hurts. For all she would know maybe it's just a ploy by other mothers to keep women from having babies thereby saving the best schools for their kids.

Is a childless mom allowed to use the birth trump card?

Gene's answer was yes, women always get to use that one. I'm going to agree with him, and hope my desire for self-preservation isn't too transparent. But I'd love to hear what you guys think.

One more thing: while driving earlier today, I saw a "Baby in Car" sign inside the rear window of a SUV in front of me. Is this the return of "Baby on Board"? I thought I saw a Gerber logo at the bottom of the sign, but couldn't find anything at the Gerber website. Has anyone else seen one of these?

Early birds - annoying or admirable?

Mis Hooz sent me an interesting piece from Sunday's New York Times about people who wake up very early and brag about the fact they get so much done because they sleep so little. I think there's definitely a tendency to look down on anyone who sleeps in until noon - especially during the work week. (Unless you're on a college campus, where people give you weird looks when you say you wake up most days at 6 am, and 9 am on weekends.)

I know I've definitely bought into that mentality. If I'm not up by 9 am, I feel like I'm wasting the day. (And as many of you may have noticed, a good percentage of my blog entries are posted before 8 am during the week.) Even when I was on vacation, I pushed myself out of bed early.

But I don't know which category I fit into anymore - am I a morning person or night person? Before going back to school, I would've called myself a morning person. I preferred to go into work early. But as my stay at Iowa has worn on, I find myself keeping later hours. Scheduling has a lot to do with that, of course. I began by taking early classes as often as I could. But as many of my classes are now later in the afternoon and evening, I've had to adjust. Now, waking up early is painful most days. And I find I get more done later at night.

So where do you stand, people? Are you morning or night people? Do you favor lots of sleep with late waking hours or are you one of those freakos who can get by on 4-5 hours of sleep and hit the gym at 5 am?

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Shatner, Iowa will make you pay someday

Every summer, the small town of Riverside, IA holds a festival called "Trekfest," which is intended to celebrate the birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk. Riverside kind of seized the honor for itself, however. A guy named Steve Miller (not the "Fly Like an Eagle" guy) read that "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry said Kirk was born in a small Iowa town, so he decided that Riverside (population, 928) might as well be that place. Roddenberry said first come, first served and "Trekfest" was born.

As an assignment for a Nonfiction Writing class, I attended "Trekfest" last summer and considered it a woefully disappointing event. I wanted costumes and fake pointy ears, and people making Vulcan hand signs and speaking Klingon to me. But I didn't see any of that. There was an occasional Starfleet uniform wandering around, but for the most part, "Trekfest" was just a small-town social with a little parade, some live music, a costume contest, and most importantly, barbecued pork plates with chips and cole slaw for only $6.50. (If you'd like to read the essay I eventually wrote, which isn't very long, click here.)

Despite its 20 years of existence, Captain Kirk himself - William Shatner - had never attended "Trekfest." But last fall, he did finally visit Riverside. As an expression of gratitude for Riverside's passion, Shatner announced he would use the town as a location for a sci-fi film he would direct, titled "Invasion Iowa." Riverside, as you might imagine, was thrilled to have a little bit of Hollywood drive in via its dirt roads.

Unfortunately, the whole thing was a hoax. Shatner was really using Riverside to film a new reality TV show for Spike TV that would show how a small Midwestern town reacted to Hollywood working there for a few weeks. That's right; Shatner essentially shat upon Riverside. To placate the people he fooled and lied to, and make sure there were no hard feelings, Shatner donated $100,000 to the community. (Here's a letter the show's producers wrote to the Iowa Film Office.) As an indication of Iowans laid-back nature, Riverside forgave Shatner quickly and even credited him for his honesty and charity. The local media, however, was sore about being duped.

(One of Shatner's former directors, Nicholas Meyer - who directed "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan" and is also a University of Iowa alumnus - denounced the sham weeks later when he learned of it during a visit to Iowa City.)

Why am I writing about all this now? The fraud Shatner perpetrated on the poor, mild-mannered people of Riverside - also titled "Invasion Iowa" - is showing on Spike TV tonight. Episodes will run each night until Friday. (April 1! April Fool's Day - get it?)

Showing what good sports they are, a preview screening in Riverside last week was supposedly well-received by the people. I hope the show gets a rating of zero point zero, myself. Shatner won't go away if people keep encouraging his behavior, you know. Me, I'm watching Scrubs tonight.

Here's more from USA Today.

Monday, March 28, 2005

Maybe he had too much chocolate

I hope those Easter Bunny suits are padded. You never know when a kid might go bat$#!t crazy and decide to attack. That's what happened to Bryan Johnson of Bay City, MI last week. A 12-year-old spaz unleashed hell on the poor guy, giving him a bloody nose in the process. Johnson didn't smack the little $#!thead down because he, being a good Easter Bunny, felt it would be inappropriate to get in a fight in front of children. He is, however, apparently going to press charges.

I wonder if the kid saw Donnie Darko the night before?

Happy Easter, Frank!

Here's the story from the Bay City Times.

Sparty on!

Would anyone believe me if I said I almost picked Michigan State to make it to the Final Four of the NCAA Tournament? I didn't think so. But really - I was thisclose. Anyway, congratulations to coach Tom Izzo and his Spartans, who beat Kentucky 94-88 in double overtime (and broke the heart of my future bride, Ashley Judd). But considering the game went to overtime because of a game-tying three-pointer by Kentucky's Patrick Sparks that maybe only counted as two points (and went in after two or three bounces), karmic justice was probably on MSU's side.

AP Photo

You be the judge - is Sparks's foot on the three-point line? (After sleeping on it, I think the referees did the right thing by letting the players decide the game in another overtime period.)

That's four trips to the Final Four in seven years for Izzo and MSU. If Izzo isn't already considered among the top coaches in college basketball (but I get the feeling he is), he definitely deserves to be now. His program should be in the same sentence with traditional powers like North Carolina, Duke, and Kentucky. (MSU beat those last two schools in this year's tournament. Will North Carolina be next on Saturday?)

Here's Bob Wojnowski's column from the Detroit News. And you know it's a big event if Mitch Albom is writing about sports again.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Today's real holiday - to me

Happy Birthday today to Dennis Casselberry. I hope you and Mom have a great birthday dinner at Haab's tonight. I only wish I could join you. Enjoy the day - and enjoy that steak!

Since I'm not in church on Easter Sunday...

... and finding a brunch sounds like work this morning, I'm reading the Sunday papers.

©2005 Bill Amend

▪ Michigan's hockey season ended just short of the semifinals last night, as they lost to Colorado College, 4-3, but Antoine Pitts of the Ann Arbor News (who might as well be called "Mr. College Hockey" for as long as he's covered the sport) thinks this was one of the best seasons U-M had in recent memory. I wish I'd have caught a game at Yost Ice Arena this season.

Sharon Waxman has an interesting article in today's New York Times about the Ben Stiller-Owen Wilson-Vince Vaughn-Will Ferrell movie comedy clique. Is the fact that all these guys appear in each other's films really funny or kind of annoying?

▪ That giant sigh of relief you may have heard last night was from Champaign, IL. What a comeback for Illinois; they were down by 15 points to Arizona with five minutes left in the game, and 8 points with one minute remaining. According to Michael Wilbon of the Washington Post, this was college basketball at its best. I ain't arguin' with him.

▪ After yesterday's outstanding NCAA tournament games (congratulations to Louisville, as well - they had an amazing comeback of their own), a random thought occurred to me: Is there another sport that celebrates making it to the semifinals of its championship tournament as much as college basketball does?

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Where's a satellite dish when I need it?

Congratulations to the University of Michigan hockey team, who defeated Wisconsin, 4-1, last night in the first round of the NCAA hockey tournament. If they can beat Colorado College this evening, Michigan will be on its way to Columbus, OH for the national semifinals (otherwise known as the "Frozen Four.")

Check out the Michigan College Hockey blog for an account of the game. I'll have to depend on those guys, as well as the Ann Arbor News, for recaps of the game, since I'm not getting any college hockey out here in Iowa. FOX Sports Net Chicago broadcast several CCHA games during the regular season, since they had no professional hockey games to show, but the network is failing me miserably now that the postseason tournament has begun. Thanks, guys. No wonder the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, and Blackhawks left you for Comcast.

Okay people, it's just a game

Last night's game between the Detroit Pistons and Indiana Pacers - the first time the Pacers have returned to the Palace of Auburn Hills since The Brawl - was delayed by a bomb threat. Some moron called the Palace switchboard before the game and said there was a bomb in the Pacers' locker room. The Pacers got on their bus and drove to the far side of the Palace grounds. Meanwhile, thousands of people entered the arena, took their seats, and sat out a 90-minute delay to the game. They were told the delay was "due to unforeseen circumstances." (Entertainment was provided with the Michigan State-Duke college basketball game on the scoreboard.*)

No bomb was found. But apparently, the Pistons were still on some kind of delay once the game started, as they lost to the Pacers, 94-81. Ouch. (Pistons fans: Is it time to panic over their team's third straight loss to an inferior team?) Please consider that the Pacers had to be talked into playing the game. Half the team wanted the game to be cancelled. They were finally persuaded to play by the NBA, which threatened the team with a forfeit.

Something to consider for Palace security: The Pistons and Pacers could face each other in the first round of the NBA playoffs. Start boosting up that staff now.

* MSU beat Duke 78-68. Great job, Spartans. If they beat Kentucky on Sunday, they're in the Final Four.

Is there still hope?

After last Saturday, I figured I had absolutely no hope of winning Yoni Cohen's college basketball Bloggers Bracket. I, along with three of my best friends, watched Wake Forest forget how to play defense (the experts say they never learned how to properly defend this season) and lose to West Virginia, 111-105. Since I'd picked the Demon Deacons to win the NCAA tournament (a fact my little sister reminded me of via cell phone during my drive back to Iowa), I realized my chances of winning Yoni's contest were slimmer than Lara Flynn Boyle and decided never to look at my bracket again.

But Sis, surely seeking to crush my self-esteem in return for bullying her when we were children, asked me last night to check where I ranked in the standings. Seeing as how I was in 306th place before Wake Forest lost, I expected to find my name down around the number 500.

Well, look at who's surged to 296th place! Two of my Final Four - Syracuse and the aforementioned (Not a-)Wake Forest - are indeed gone. But I'd forgotten that I changed my mind, and picked North Carolina to win the tournament. So I'm still alive - barely. Sis, how do you like them apples?

Friday, March 25, 2005

It IS called "Good Friday"

If I'm hearing loud moaning from the apartment below me at 10 am, do you think my neighbor is watching porn or engaging in some impressively loud @#$%ing? The student apartments I live in do not have thin walls. They're made of cement and cinder block. (I like to think of them as prison cells with private bathrooms and cable and phone hook-ups.) So you have to make some noise to penetrate (ahem!) these walls and ceilings. Also, consider that I had the radio on and could still hear "Oh God! Yeah! Ahhhh! Ohhh!" I don't think someone downstairs stubbed her toe. The sheer, shall we say, enthusiasm and volume of the noise leads me to believe my neighbor was watching porn. But hey, that's being cynical. Besides, how many people watch porn before noon? Highly unlikely, right?

I doubt I'll ever find out - and quite frankly, I hope I never do. But just in case, I think I'll leave two bottles of water and a pack of cigarettes outside my neighbor's door.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Hey man, does this taste funny to you?

Thanks to Mis Hooz for this one. Next time you're eating at Wendy's, you might want to inspect that chili a bit more closely. A San Jose woman found a finger in her cup.

From the Associated Press article:

"Initially she did put this object in her mouth and did bite down on it and wasn't sure exactly what it was," Santa Clara County Health Officer Dr. Martin Fenstersheib said at a news conference. "She's doing OK. Initially she was a bit grossed out it was described to me, and vomited a number of times."

Fenstersheib said the finger had been cooked at a high enough temperature to kill any viruses.

Ma'am, we're sorry that there was a finger in your chili. But look at the bright side - that was a healthy finger. No disease whatsoever. No dirt under the fingernail.

Here's some more:

"We have no evidence of any accident within the employees at the facility itself," said Ben Gale of the Santa Clara County Health Department. "We asked everybody to show us they have 10 fingers and everything is OK there."

Although we wondered why everyone had been calling Jim "Lefty" over the past couple of weeks.

You know who we need in times like these? Dave Thomas.

Now that guy could make a finger in your chili seem okay, even wholesome. Hey, that was a fresh finger in your chili, ma'am. Other places would give you a frozen finger. No, those are actually french fries. Go ahead, have some more.

Not touching that dial

▪ Since I don't have TiVo (or a DVR), I find myself occasionally watching commercials. And a few of them running during last night's The West Wing (which has gotten pretty good again) ain't bad. Hellooooooo, Marisa Tomei.

Wait'll you get your Hanes on me! Has she always been this cute in her movies or did the Hanes casualwear get my attention? (Maybe she's had some work done, too.)

▪ And hey, was that Steve Carell back on The Daily Show ?

Dude! The show misses you. Where have you been? Embedded with soldiers fighting in Iraq? Oh, right - you're on that American-ized version of The Office. (Wait - that's not why he was on The Daily Show, was it?) Can it possibly be as good as the British version? Well, the New York Times thinks so. Alessandra Stanley says the show is "very funny - for viewers who never saw the original series on BBC America." Well, thanks to Netflix, I've seen it. So I should probably make other plans for tonight, eh?

▪ One commercial I don't like: the Nike basketball spot with ants crawling all over sneakers, basketballs, and basketball courts. (I couldn't find any links to the ad.) Somehow, this is supposed to make me want to buy shoes or think about college basketball. But my body itches after watching that thing. And I want to disinfect my apartment. I hate ants, man. Who likes 'em? Well, other than Ant-Man, of course.

▪ But I like the ads for the new Sin City flick. This is playing all over TV right now. The geek in me is happy that yet another one of my favorite graphic novels (I know - comic books) has been made into a movie.

I know I should get over that. But the movie looks good. Man, I hope it's good.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Do the initials "BB" stand for "Big Baby"?

Did you hear the sounds of violins coming from Scottsdale, AZ yesterday? They provided background music for Barry Bonds as he threw himself before the reporters covering the San Francisco Giants, declared himself "tired" several times, and asked to be left alone.

Ben Margot/Associated Press

"You wanted me to jump off the bridge. I finally jumped," Bonds said to the reporters. "You wanted to bring me down. You finally have brought me and my family down. You've finally done it, everybody, all of you. So now go pick a different person. I'm done."

Those sound like the confessions of a near-middle-aged drama queen to me. But in fairness, Bonds might've been depressed after learning he could miss half, if not all, of the 2005 baseball season because of an injured knee which just required a second surgery.

The timing also seems convenient, given last week's steroid hearings in Washington, D.C., and a recent San Francisco Chronicle report concerning grand jury testimony from an alleged former mistress. In that testimony, the woman claimed that Bonds admitted to steroid use and gave her $80,000 in cash, earned from autographed baseballs, to buy a house. (That income, by the way, interests the IRS, since it was apparently unreported.)

(Keith Olbermann thinks the conspiracies reach even further than that. Under the terms of Major League Baseball's steroid-testing program, a player on the disabled list - who can't play, due to injury - can't be tested for drug use. Or, rather than continue to play, break Hank Aaron's career home run record, but eventually test positive for steroids, Bonds can now say he's retiring because of his knee injury - or the mean, pesky media.)

But here's where Bonds lost me - and actually made me hope that he doesn't break one of baseball's most celebrated records: During the impromptu press conference, Bonds's 15-year old son, Nikolai, was sitting next to him. He asked the cameraman in attendance to zoom out, in order to include Nikolai in the picture, "so you guys can see the pain you're causing my family." Class move, Barry. Trot your kid in front of the media and essentially use him as a human shield. Gee, now they can't ask you about steroids, tax evasion, and of course, possible adultery. Nice.

But hey, he can sure hit that baseball. Or maybe he can't anymore, and that's why we got the drama. Take a nap, Barry. That's what we all do when we're tired.

You know this kid gets the chicks

Ladies, meet Noah Nielsen. He's only 10 years old, but he might be worth the wait. Noah just won the 30th annual National Odor-Eaters Rotten Sneaker Contest. He defeated six other contestants for a $300 government savings bond, $100 for new shoes, and a supply (hopefully, a lifetime's worth) of Odor-Eaters.

Noah, what's the secret to your success? America wants to know.

"No socks, ever," he told the Associated Press.
"The stank was from rubbing my toes back and forth and making them sweaty."

How nasty were Nielsen's feet? They made one of the judges gag.
"Human feet shouldn't smell that bad," said judge Bill Fraser, who's also the Montpelier city manager.

But apparently, this kid was serious about winning. He wouldn't take a bath in the week leading up to the contest. And even when his parents made him, he hung his feet out of the tub.

Those parents must be so proud...

Cruising down Scientology Lane

Would you take a four-hour tour with Tom Cruise if it meant you had to listen to him blab about scientology? Apparently, that's the price of doing business with the man these days.

Paul White/Associated Press

I'll never be a high-roller that invests in one of his movies, but I think Tom Cruise gets enough of my money. After looking at his filmography, I realize I've seen virtually every one of his movies. Whether or not I'd like to admit it, I must enjoy what he's doing.

(Interesting factoid from that New York Times article: In Germany, scientology is considered a dangerous sect and is under federal surveillance.)

Head in the sand

Some friends and family have asked me how I feel about the Terri Schiavo case. I haven't read much about it, and to be honest, I try to avoid it. Looking at all the coverage the 24-hour cable news networks have given this story only makes me want to turn the channel. I just don't have much passion on the subject, and that usually doesn't make for a good blog entry.

David Rees comes pretty close to echoing my thoughts on the subject in his comic, "Get Your War On." Here's a clip from his latest strip:

Click the link for much more. Rees's feelings are a little harsher than mine, but the sentiment is similar.

Here's my quick take: I don't think the government should get involved in a personal, family matter - especially when it comes off like political grandstanding - and that's about as far as it goes for me.

Don't we all have a right to refuse medical attention? Isn't that what this really comes down to? If this is a poor analogy, I'm sure you'll let me know, but if I break my arm, I don't have to see a doctor. I should, but what if I don't want to? Isn't that my right?

Am I over-simplifying the matter? Is it more serious than that because we're talking about the "right to life," and this is a situation of life and death?

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Provincial pride?

Is it a Michigan thing to get excited about seeing your state - or your city - be mentioned in a movie? Maybe it's a midwestern thing. But there were whispers in the crowd during a Saturday evening showing of The Upside of Anger at Ann Arbor's Showcase Cinemas when Ann Arbor was mentioned. And when Kevin Costner sported this t-shirt on-screen, the whispers grew to a was a noticeable murmur:

I have to admit, I took notice too, since Mr. Stadium Coin Laundry is approximately one mile away from my parents' house. I thought it was cool - what can I say?

In a recent article from the Detroit News, Neal Rubin gets excited about the Michigan stuff - such as Uncle Ray's chips and WRIF-FM - in the movie. So is this tendency among Michiganders - and I'm sure it's not indigenous to Michigan - cute or are we being "hayseeds," as Rubin self-deprecatingly calls himself?

▪ Speaking of The Upside of Anger, David Edelstein hated the ending so much, he put it on his Top 20 list of worst film twists. Before seeing the film, I wondered if Edelstein was being harsh. But after seeing it, I have to agree. The twist was bad enough to make me wonder why I spent the previous two hours watching the movie. But I still enjoyed those two hours. To me, movies are more enjoyable when good actors get a chance to display their talents, and Joan Allen was great. She's drunk, she's mad as hell, and she's not gonna take it anymore! Kevin Costner was good too, even if he's playing a baseball player for, like, the twentieth time. (Bull Durham, baby.)

Loose ends

Never underestimate the desire of a man with a wife and three kids to prolong any night he gets to go out with friends. How many does he get a year, four or five? He wanted to hit every club and bar he'd been reading about for months. He even would've settled for bowling, just to keep the night going. I felt like a lame-o with my "oh no, I have a really long drive back to Iowa in the morning" reason for cutting the evening short. But man, I'm still dragging from staying out so late with my old friends back home in Ann Arbor. I pulled into rest stops twice during the 450-mile drive to take a nap. I never do that. A six-and-a-half drive became almost ten. Mike, you killed me. I want you to know that. And no, I won't babysit your kids if I move back.

From the people who brought you "Bad Santa"

Maybe this could be a sequel to Bad Santa. Put Billy Bob Thornton in an Easter Bunny suit, and let the hijinks, hilarity, and debauchery begin!

From The Daily Nonpareil of Council Bluffs, IA:

According to Council Bluffs Police reports, officers went to the mall around 3:15 p.m. about a man dressed as the Easter Bunny causing a disturbance. The man was working as the Easter Bunny at the mall's picture-taking area. The man, identified as Michael J. Desantiago Sr., 36, of Council Bluffs, told police someone threw water at him and other items. Desantiago said he became frustrated, left the area and changed his clothes and came back.

At this point, the reports said, Desantiago went up to a fellow employee and told her he was leaving. The girl started to yell at him and then called security, Desantiago told police.

The girl, however, told police that Desantiago "got up in her face and started to yell at her," the reports said. She became frightened and started to shake.

Desantiago, according to the reports, went up to another person and threatened him if he didn't get out of the way.

Desantiago was arrested and charged with two counts of harassment and transported to county corrections.

Man, that movie writes itself! Just make sure Billy Bob's midget sidekick has a role. I love that guy.

Monday, March 21, 2005

Monday moanin'

©2005 Bill Watterson/ Dist. by UPS

I knew I had homework to do over vacation. And I meant to get to it. I did. Where did all that time go? What was I doing? I couldn't have read a chapter or two while eating my way through Charleston? This should be a fun day. Usual Monday misery multiplied by 5 (maybe 10).

Sunday, March 20, 2005

What the shell is he thinking?

AP photo

According to Bryan Dora of Michigantown, IN, you're looking at the face of the devil, formed on the shell of a turtle named Lucky. Lucky was the only animal that survived a fire that destroyed Dora's pet store back in October.

So what do you think would happen if Lucky ate the Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwich?

Do you feel lucky... ? Well? Do ya... punk?

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Saturday suffe-"ring"?

I have plans to see "The Ring Two" this afternoon, but after reading some reviews online, I'm not sure that's a good choice.

Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post says the movie "appears to have been written on a large piece of blank paper by chickens with their feet dipped in ink."

Roger Ebert's review gave it two-and-a-half-stars in his review, which began with this line: "I am not sure I entirely understand the deer."

That'll be on the posters and commercials soon, I'm sure.

And only a 28% freshness rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Uh-oh. Maybe I should change my plans for the afternoon. "The Upside of Anger" is looking pretty good. (71% fresh!)

Bad endings - with a twist

Maybe I should scratch The Upside of Anger off my list too. (Or stop reading film reviews.) According to Slate's David Edelstein, its ending ruins the film. That got him thinking about bad movie endings, and which of them had the worst twists. His Top (or Bottom) 20 is listed as follows:

1. The Life of David Gale
2. The Game
3. Planet of the Apes (Tim Burton version)
4. Basic
5. The Woman in the Window (Fritz Lang)
6. Suspicion (Hitchcock)
7. No Way Out
8. The Village
9. Fight Club
10. The Forgotten
11. Secret Window
12. The Usual Suspects
13. Reindeer Games
14. Never Talk to Strangers
15. Man on Fire
16. I Bury the Living
17. The Contender
18. Swimming Pool
19. The Stepford Wives (remake)
20. The Upside of Anger

I'm not sure if I have anything to add to that list, as Edelstein already picked the choices that came to my mind. The ending to Tim Burton's Planet of the Apes is virtually incomprehensible and one of the all-time worst. I also thought the twist in Secret Window (which I recently watched on HBO) was near-laughable. I'm sure there's a blooper reel with the actors cracking up dozens of times as they try to work with the story they were given. But I think Edelstein's rather kind to M. Night Shyamalan, whose attempts to repeat the twist of The Sixth Sense have been three-strikes-and-you're-out. (In fairness, I haven't even seen The Village. But why should I bother at this point?)

Now I'll spend most of the day trying to think of some others. How about the rest of you? Anything to add? Or how about some good twists?

Friday, March 18, 2005

Keep the day job, Ian

I also wanted to write about the NCAA Tournament, but John beat me to that too, dagnabbit. I think I have John beat when it comes to putrid prognostication skills, however. I'm currently tied for 306th place in Yoni Cohen's Bloggers Bracket. (You have to scroll way down to find my sorry ass in the standings.) As I write this, 24 of 32 first-round tournament games have been played, and I correctly predicted a whopping 16 of those 24. (Big raspberries to you, Alabama and LSU. Thanks for destroying a brother's bracket.) In the world of sports prognostication, that .667 percentage is el stinko. This confirms that I know nothing - especially when it comes to college basketball.

And to kick me while I'm down, "my" Iowa Hawkeyes lost to Cincinnati yesterday, 76-64.

However, my picks for the Final Four are all still alive. Just in case anyone besides myself cares, these are the teams I picked. (Remember: .667) If I'm right about these in two weeks, I know everything.

Wake Forest
North Carolina

Make me look good, guys! Get me up to 300th place, at least...

Update - 10:00 pm: Okay, I'm officially a basketball moron, as Syracuse lost to Vermont tonight, 60-57. Having one of your Final Four picks eliminated in the first round isn't just el stinko, it's el barfo. Evidently, that "gut feeling" I had was from the italian sausage I ate the night before. It was fun while it lasted. (Hopefully, Syracuse's loss helps Michigan State in the Austin Bracket of the tournament.)

Ah, you guys beat me to it

This is what I get for running errands and being social today. My fellow bloggers have already written about the topics I had on my mind.

John at and Raging Red already covered the fraudulent Congressional steroid hearings. But I'll still chime in. I agree with John that steroid abuse is an issue that needs to be addressed, but the proceedings yesterday were a sham. (A "trave-sham-ockery," as Bob Odenkirk said in those Miller Lite commercials.) I'm convinced that Tom Davis, R-VA, conducted these hearings just so he could meet some of his favorite ballplayers. If not, why drag these guys in front of Congress and just let them dodge the issue, as Mark McGwire did when he said he "didn't want to talk about the past."

Well gee, Mark, what did you think those Congressmen wanted to talk about? NCAA tournament pools? The new "Star Wars" movie?

I know it's "innocent until proven guilty" in this country, but by invoking his Fifth Amendment rights yesterday, McGwire might as well have put on an "I ♥ Steroids" t-shirt. Why not just say you took 'em, Mark? Everyone thinks you did so anyway - especially when you show up before Congress looking 40-50 lbs. lighter. To me, it was a disappointing, just-short-of-disgraceful display. McGwire walked out of there looking as dirty as Pig-Pen.

I did enjoy Rafael Palmiero assertively pointing at the committee as he said, "I have never taken steroids." It might've been the 2005 version of "I did not have sexual relations with that woman." Unfortunately, I can't find a photo of that moment. I wish one of the Congressmen would've challenged Palmiero's history with performance enhancers, though. Remember, the dude endorsed Viagra.

But really, what was learned yesterday, other than Jose Canseco has a book currently on sale in a bookstore near you?

ESPN is killing my appetite

Why is Jay Mariotti a substitute host for Tony Kornheiser on ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption" right now? And while I'm at it, how does this guy get the jobs he has (sports columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, panelist on ESPN's "Around the Horn")? The dumbest, whiniest $#!t comes out of his mouth on a minute-by-minute basis.

As this blog implies, Mariotti might have incriminating pictures of his bosses.

And Jay, just because Mark McGwire tried to look smart and serious with his glasses at yesterday's Congressional steroid hearings doesn't mean you should wear them too. The glasses didn't work for him, and they're not working for you.

But ESPN got one thing right, subbing Michael Smith for Michael Wilbon. That guy knows his stuff.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

This is why I just point at menus

Did I embarrass myself at lunch yesterday by pronouncing conch as it's spelled (like couch with a "n" in place of the "u")? Or is it pronounced "konk"? Anyway, it was part of a chowder for my second-to-last meal in Charleston, at a Cuban restaurant called Avondale Station. I've never been to Cuba, so I can't speak to the place's authenticity, but I enjoyed its atmosphere. Brightly colored, with floor-to-ceiling windows that were essentially garage doors (I think the building used to be a gas station) that could be opened when the weather's nice enough. So everyone can feel like they're eating outdoors. And man, I love those Cuban flat grill sandwiches with ham, pork, swiss cheese, pickles and mustard pressed and grilled between two pieces of Cuban bread.

... I need to start jogging (or as I like to call it, walking faster) when I get back to Iowa, don't I?

Just make 'em all unisex

And while I'm on the subject of embarrassing myself, is it a big deal that I found myself ("accidentally") in a women's bathroom yesterday? I say no, but Sis was embarrassed for me. (That's a perpetual state for her, by the way.) Here's a note for the Target in Charleston: How about not putting the big "Restrooms" sign just in front of the women's bathroom? But I'll try to defend myself and explain how I got confused.

At the end of the short corridor, there were doors on the left and right. One was closed, one was propped open. The "women" sign was next to the closed door. I figured the "men" sign was behind the open door. So I walked in. And yes, I realized where I was right away, when I didn't see any urinals. But you know what? Ol' Ian had to pee. And I swear the other person in the bathroom was standing up in the stall. That person left and someone else came in while I was tending to my business.

Then, as I'm washing my hands, a woman walks out of a stall and smirks at me. (I think she knew what was going on, as there's a distinct difference between the sound of a man peeing and a woman peeing. Do I need to go into more detail?) All I could say was "whoops." What else could I have done, at least I was washing my hands. Not nearly enough men do that. (Oooh, that might get me in trouble at the next guys meeting...) If I hadn't stopped to wash up, I'd have gotten away with it, man.

As it turns out, the corridor to the men's bathroom was at the far end of the wall. Oh well. Hey, no one caused a scene. No one was hurt. However, I think I did forget to put the toilet seat back down in that stall...

The Pleas Club

The last meal of my trip (and this should take care of food blogs for a while) was at a tapas bar called Chai's. (Sorry, I can't find a link. I think the place is too new.) I was disappointed at first, because I thought my sister said "topless" bar. It's just as well; it would've been weird to be at a topless bar with my little sister. But hey, if she was paying, I might've gotten over it. The food was fantastic, but I kept hearing my dad's voice in my head as each tapa arrived at our table. (The link is for my dad's benefit, who asked me three different times what I was talking about during the drive home from the airport.) "Nine dollars and that's all we get?" I'm not entirely sure I'd disagree with Dad on that one.

My favorite dish was called plea (plee-a), which was beef tartare. I pretended to know what that was when the waitress offered that as Hey-you-know-you're-ordering-raw-meat-right? clarification. I loved it, especially with all the Thai seasonings (lime zest, basil, lemon grass, mint, and Thai chilies), but as I think about what I actually ate, I'm wondering if I should get a little grossed out. Nah, f#$% that - it was great.

I saved myself from my third potentially embarrassing moment of the night when the waitress checked with us to see how we liked the plea. "Some like it, some hate it," she said. "I love it." How funny would it have been if I'd said "Why do people gotta be plea-hatahs?" Okay, it wouldn't have been that funny. But at the time - with a few adult beverages consumed - I think it would've killed. (And admit it - you're laughing right now. C'mon.)

Snide & Incredulous

Due to the aforementioned adult beverages, I didn't protest when Sis suggested seeing Bride & Prejudice at the indie theater in town. I can take "Bollywood" flicks in short doses, such as when I watch them for 20 minutes while waiting for a take-out order at an Indian restaurant, but I'm not a huge fan of musicals. And an American-ized Bollywood flick sounded like a disaster-in-the-making. But then I saw Aishwarya Rai on the screen.

I've done worse things for an hour-and-a-half than look at her. Like watch Martin Henderson act. Christ, I was more convincing - and more compelling - while waiting for my luggage at the airport.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

A serious slice of cool

I might have to move down here to Charleston. Maybe over dinner tonight (with drinks a-flowin'), I'll try to talk my sister into letting me stay in her condo while I look for a job and my own place. In return, I'll do useful older brother stuff like put together bookshelves and desks for her. (Or I could just pay rent.)

I'm loving the radio stations here. I can't remember the last time I listened to the radio and enjoyed what I was hearing. But there's an "adult alternative" station (just typing that makes me feel old) here that reminds me of the old 93.1 ("The River") in Detroit (actually broadcasting out of Windsor). Basically, "adult alternative" means all the non-grunge music I enjoyed in the 90's. (Buffalo Tom, Counting Crows, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Morphine, etc.)

Something that's really refreshing about Charleston is how many local businesses exist along the main corridor on King St. There aren't too many large chains or franchises. For instance, when I wanted to find a music store, my choices weren't Sam Goody or f.y.e. Instead, there's 52.5 Records (which is mentioned on the back page of the latest Rolling Stone).

Check that place out. Rob and Barry from High Fidelity would be proud to work in a store like that. You ain't stoppin' in there to find "I Just Called to Say 'I Love You.'" I just wish I'd had more money to spend in there.

I couldn't resist spending a little cash at my next stop, however. Next time I visit Charleston, I might spend an entire week at Atomic Comics.

It's not Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man as soon as you walk in. That stuff's there, of course, but it's mixed in along a wall of other lesser known comics and graphic novels. The store also has a bunch of toys and novelties (such as the brothers of Devil Duck, who's always causing trouble at Raging Red's blog), and a collection of hilariously quirky cards. And their independent comics section shames virtually every other shop I've been to. I managed to stick to my budget, however, and only picked up copies of Tom Beland's "True Story, Swear to God," Peter Bagge's latest effort, "Apocalypse Nerd," and a birthday card which should make my dad scratch his head for days.

Atomic Comics is also perfectly located between a hair salon and clothing boutique, so if a girlfriend, wife, or sister isn't cool enough to appreciate such a store, they don't have to stand in a corner with foot tapping and arms folded, waiting for you to get your geek on.

Of course, there was eating yesterday. Sis and I hit the Southend Brewery & Smokehouse. She got a bacon-and-chicken brick oven-baked pizza, the leftovers of which I'm currently trying to resist. I'm a sucker for thin crust pizzas baked to a crisp, man. And portabella mushrooms and ricotta cheese... mmm. I ordered a BBQ beef brisket sandwich, which was really tender and had just enough smokey flavor. That meat melted in my mouth so fast, I could've eaten two of those sandwiches. But I filled up on beer instead.

I was typically indecisive about which beer to order, so I opted for the sampler tray. The stout was rich, smooth, and nutty, with a head I probably could've rested a hamburger on, and I wish I could take a case of it back with me for the colder temperatures of Michigan and Iowa. The Southend Blonde (several of which I was also checking out as they walked by the window - HA!) had a really nice hop finish too. (Do I almost sound like I know what I'm talking about?) And I loved the Southend Wheat, but I bet I'd enjoy it even more during one of those torturously humid Charleston summers.

(I have no future as a food critic, do I... ?)

Technology: Such a cruel mistress

Mozilla Firefox and I have been carrying on a steamy affair since last summer. Even when Microsoft Internet Explorer occasionally bats its eyelashes at me and reminds me it's still around, I barely take a look. I'm too smitten with Firefox. I'm sure many of you have found yourselves in similarly torrid romances.

But last night, I was reminded that no relationship is perfect. Suddenly, for no explicable reason, all of my bookmarks were gone. So were all the cookies. Saved passwords? Bye-bye. Home pages? Almost like they never existed.

I have no idea what happened. (I'm sure someone who actually knows something about web browsers could tell me, "Oh yeah, your blah-blah-blah gobbledy-gooked. You need to wah-wah-wah-wah-wah-wah.") Everything was going so well. We were spending so much time together. Maybe I scared Firefox, overwhelming her with all those new blog bookmarks. It was like the out-of-nowhere mood swing, or the surprising racist remark, from the person you're dating. Where did that come from?

So fiery, so foxy, yet still a mystery to me...

They'll be registered at Williams-Sonoma any day now

Scott Ostler of the San Francisco Chronicle gave voice to something I'd been thinking about for the past few weeks. (That's a fancy way of saying "Dude beat me to it." And really, he should - he gets paid to write about sports.) How weird is it that ESPN has assigned a reporter to cover just one guy? Granted, that one guy - Barry Bonds - could be the story in Major League Baseball this season, as he approaches Hank Aaron's all-time career home run record and is practically wearing a "Got Steroids?" t-shirt of suspicion, but does he really need a personal stenographer hanging on his every word, then relaying it back to ESPN?

But there's Pedro Gomez, following Bonds every day, reporting such "news" as "Barry Bonds says his hat size hasn't changed" and "Barry Bonds says his testicles haven't shrunken." (Hopefully, you took ol' Barry's word on that one, Pedro.) Next week, we'll probably find out what Bonds likes for breakfast and whether Bonds likes to sleep on the right or left side of the bed. (Another thing, Pedro - those weren't pillows your hands were staying warm between.) Tune into Sportscenter to see Bonds and Gomez pick out China patterns together.

At least ESPN picked the right player in the right city - San Francisco -to give Bonds this kind of coverage. Those two are so cute together. Maybe they'll get a show next season on Bravo.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Eating my way through Charleston

I think if I have nothing to complain about, it means I'm having a good time. So that's the story here from Charleston, SC. I'm sitting on my sister's patio, soaking up some sunny, 70-degree weather, typing away on this laptop, pirating someone's wireless internet signal, and listening to some surprisingly good radio stations here in "the low-country." This feels like a vacation, man.

I've jumped through most of the tourist hoops on my previous trips to Charleston, so my visits now mostly consist of eating my way through the city. I haven't traveled around this country nearly as much as I'd like, and I imagine most metropolitan areas have good-to-great bars and restaurants, but for its size - Charleston ain't no New York or Chicago - this area's good-food-per-capita is amazing. Since I still have trouble going to a place that requires me to tuck my shirt in or wear a jacket, fine dining isn't happening. (Sis would prefer to save those places for dates and boyfriends, anyway.) But that's okay with me.

And I worked for my meals, man. My little sister's about to become a homeowner, so we spent the last two mornings driving around town to look at any place that had tiles, flooring, and blinds. Believe me, I'm just the guy you want next to you when you're mulling over vinyl vs. ceramic vs. porcelain tile. (No, no, I'm leaning my forehead against the shelf because I'm thinking about whether ceramic is best for a kitchen floor, Sis.) Hey, I try to help as much as I can. It's the least I can do while she lets me stay here and eat her food, right?

But for my troubles (and, if I may say so, my phenomenal patience), we chowed down southern-style at Jestine's Kitchen. After trolling the aisles at Lowe's, you need some light, healthy eating to regain your energy. So we went to a place famous - and I'm told there's almost always a line out the door - for its fried chicken, fried okra, fried oyster, fried catfish, and fried green tomatoes. (If you want something a bit lighter, you could opt for - and I'm not kidding about this - an iceberg wedge with mayo. I take it that's a southern thing.) I really wanted some o' that fried chicken, but since it was the middle of the day, and I saw how heaping those platters were on their way to other tables (and I didn't want to have a heart attack while on vacation), Sis and I shared the oysters, okra, and tomatoes. All washed down with sweet tea. (My first time in Charleston, I exposed myself as a Yankee by ordering "iced tea." Oops.) Good stuff, but I might have to sneak in a solo lunch for that fried chicken while Sis is at work.

(By the way, Matt and I have sort of a running joke that my blog hits the wall the day I start writing about what I had for lunch. I'm hitting that wall running, pal. 'Cuz that's how I roll.)

Last night, after some gentle begging (and capitalizing on her sleepy state), Sis agreed to dinner at Andolini's, which has - I don't care how hyperbolic this sounds - the best f#$%ing pizza I've ever had. (Yes, Mis Hooz - even better than Anna Maria's in Brooklyn.) New York-style thin crust, huge slices, just the right amount of cheese and sauce, and maybe the best italian sausage I've ever shoveled into my mouth. I'm sure plenty of you out there have a pizzeria you'll stick up for, or maybe you're more Chicago or St. Louis-style. I challenge you to come down to Charleston and have a slice at Andolini's and then ask yourself if you'll ever eat better pizza again. (I wonder if I can smuggle a pizza in my luggage?)

Oh, you're getting more of this tomorrow. A man's gotta eat.

On its way to a film festival near you?

My buddy Pete moved to Austin, TX in hopes of starting a career in the film industry. He's had to take baby steps, but appears to be well on his way to becoming the next... well, I'm not sure who he wants to be. Anyway, Texas treats filmmakers quite nicely, and as evidence of that, I point to the Texas Film Commission's website, where production of Pete's next short film is listed.

Unfortunately, the Texas Film Commission wouldn't let Pete list the title, which is "The Most Gorgeous Penis." (Oh, watch those blog hits skyrocket this week...) It's listed instead as "Untitled Short." Considering the story of the film, there's some irony in that substitute title.

Pete's production company also has the bare-bone beginnings of a website: Drive-In Rebellion Productions. Hopefully, he'll be able to post some of his work there soon.

March madness that matters (to me)

Congratulations to the University of Iowa men's basketball team (occasionally known as "My Hawkeyes), who received one of the 64 bids to the NCAA Tournament yesterday. I and my fellow Hawkeye fans had wore our fingernails down to the nub (Okay, full disclosure: I've been worrying about a lot of other $#!t), wondering whether or not their 21-11 season record would look attractive enough to the tournament selection committee, but two wins in the Big Ten tournament against Purdue and Michigan State over the weekend apparently did the trick. (I wish I could play you the "Goddammit, Iowa beat MSU!" voice-mail message my pal Eric left for me while I was en route to Charleston - hilarious!)

So part of my St. Patrick's Day will now be spent in front of TV, watching Iowa play the University of Cincinnati in Indianapolis, IN. As I type this, I don't know what time the game will be played. (Again, full disclosure: I might've been going to a bar to watch college basketball under a St. Patty's Day buzz - I'm getting too old for drunken stupors - anyway. I just wouldn't have cared as much about what was going on.)

The most relieved guy in the room? Probably Iowa's head basketball coach Steve Alford, who surely saved his job by getting his team into the tournament.

Also, two other Iowa universities - Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa - were also invited to the NCAA tournament. Hey, they play good hoops in cornfield country.

Finally, it would be a horrible snub if I neglected to mention two other blogs where you can get a lot more information about college basketball than I can give. First, there's Yoni Cohen's site, which is amazingly comprehensive. I don't know how he has time to cover everything he does. (Yoni was also the first guy to put me on his blogroll - hell, he was the dude who told me what a blogroll was - which is something I'll always be grateful for.) Also, for a more Iowa-centric view, check out Hawkeye Hoops.

Friday, March 11, 2005

Obligatory airport entry

How did any of us ever live without wireless internet access... ?

Well, the vacation is off to a great start. Six-and-a-half hours in the car (seven-and-a-half if my mother's reading this) from Iowa City to Ann Arbor, a quick dinner at Big Boy (thanks, Mom and Dad) and now I'm hanging out in the C concourse of Detroit Metro Airport, which has the unsettling feel of a cattle farm. If you're not familiar with this concourse, the passengers are essentially gathered in a room - really, a box - and left to wait until we're told our flight is ready to board. There aren't any grain troughs to feed from, however. I suppose that's just as well, since my tummy's full of soup-and-salad-bar goodies.

The highlight of the day? I came reallyclose to getting pulled over for speeding. In fact, I'm not sure how I didn't get nailed. I was going 80 mph on I-94 near Battle Creek, changed CDs, and when I looked up, I whizzed by a state trooper on my left. I think I saw him just in time to touch the brake and slow down. But I switched to the right-hand lane and cruised at 70 for a while. Then I noticed the trooper in my rear-view mirror.

He wasn't directly behind me, but he seemed to be tagging along with me and the SUV that was behind me the whole time. (The SUV had also switched lanes and slowed down.) I'm not sure what the state trooper was waiting or looking for; the three of us cruised along for a few miles. There was plenty of room for him to get behind me, but he never did, so I was beginning to feel safe. At that point, the trooper switched behind the SUV and turned on his flashers. Gotcha.

Better him than me, though I honestly have no idea why I wasn't the one pulled over. Maybe the SUV was actually going faster. Or maybe the state trooper was waiting to see who'd drive slower while he was cruising alongside us. Anyway, dodging a $100+ ticket is a fine way to begin a vacation. And considering my heart rate was accelerated the whole time, I'm also counting this as a good cardiovascular workout.

No news on my flight being overbooked. My fingers are crossed.

Hittin' the road

It's time for the Fried Rice Thoughts Spring Break Tour! I'll be on the road most of the day today, driving from Iowa to Michigan, and perusing the various rest stops along I-80 and I-94. (If any of them have wireless access, maybe I'll post an update. ("Hey guys, the rest stop in Morris, IL is top drawer. The air wasn't drenched with stink, the hand dryers actually worked, and no one stood too close to me at the urinals. And great snack machines! Three stars!")

Then after a brief stop at the Casselberry home (which will hopefully involve dinner) in Ann Arbor, it's off to Charleston (SC, not WV - Don't worry, Raging Red, I'm not going to be one of your speed dates) for the weekend to visit my little sister - whom everyone thinks is my older sister because she's much more successful and mature than I am.

(I'm also hoping that, as a pharmacist, she can hook a brother up with all the Sudafed he needs, since virtually anything with pseudoephedrine has become a behind-the-counter drug in Iowa. A couple dozen meth labs have to ruin it for everyone, man. I'm told Ajax is also a key ingredient in methamphetamine. Will I have to go to a pharmacist when I want to clean my sink? )

You know, I don't think a single person living in the South - and that includes my sister - has ever checked out my blog. So maybe a readership drive is in order. I think they're more into grits than fried rice down there, but I'll try to serve some sweet tea with a smile anywhere I can. (And that's not a euphemism for anything... as far as I know.) And hopefully, I'll get some good pictures to post here, too.

After that, I'll be broadcasting the rest of the week from Michigan again, getting all the home cooking I can... and shoveling snow, if the weather and my parents have anything to say about it. But I'll try like hell to squeeze in visits to Ashley's, Sweetwaters Cafe, New York Pizza Depot, and Zingerman's Deli. Ah, it'll be great to be home. Hey, if you're in the neighborhood, say hi. I'll be the guy in the Detroit Tigers hat and hooded sweatshirt, trying to finish Michael Chabon's The Final Solution before I give it to my dad for his birthday.

The man who couldn't throw straight

What if you were born with a special talent, an ability that gave you an opportunity to rise above the masses and achieve potentially great success in your chosen field? You can do something - decipher complex mathematical formulas, sing beautifully, run extremely fast, resolve medical and scientific quandaries, play a musical instrument, jump really high, write spectacular prose - that the average, mild-mannered citizen can't.

But what if you couldn't fulfill the possibilities your gifts promised because of a mental block, something in your brain that just didn't allow things to click as they should, even if it was a repetitive action that seemed simple?

These were the thoughts running through my mind when I read about Rick Ankiel of the St. Louis Cardinals, whose baffling major league career as a pitcher came to an apparent end on Wednesday. (Curiously, he's already listed as an outfielder on the Major League Baseball website and his pitching statistics have been taken down.)

Why should I give a $#!t about some baseball player, Ian? He's changing positions - so what? What's the big deal? Why should I care about some overpaid athlete? Let him try my job for a week.

Hey, I hear all that, okay? And I'm almost inclined to agree - except for the fact I love baseball, and Ankiel has suffered from one of the more perplexing maladies to occasionally affect a professional athlete: he can't throw the ball where he wants to, no matter how hard he seems to try.

During the 2000 baseball season, as a 20-year-old, Ankiel looked like he could've been one of the all-time pitching greats. He won 11 games for the Cardinals, wielding a wicked curveball that arched high, then dropped sharply through the strike zone, landing perfectly in the catcher's mitt. Hitters looked foolish trying to swing at it - if they weren't frozen in place, wondering how a baseball could move like that. It was a beautiful thing to watch.

Then something happened. Suddenly, that curveball wasn't curving. It would sail three feet over the catcher's head or two feet to his right. Hitters didn't have to bother swinging at any of Ankiel's pitches - though they occasionally had to duck out of the way - because the ball was nowhere near the strike zone. He was a real-life "Nuke" Laloosh from Bull Durham. Or Ricky Vaughn from Major League. But this was really happening. It was like watching someone try to walk, only to stagger, stumble, and then finally fall down.

Was the problem mechanical or mental? Ankiel didn't know, and neither did his coaches. He was sent down to the minor leagues in 2001 to find his control. He met with psychologists. But he never could completely regain the ability to throw a baseball accurately over home plate.

This kind of mental block has happened to other baseball players. A few years ago, Chuck Knoblauch of the New York Yankees couldn't make the seemingly simple throw from second base to first base. His throws would launch into the stands or get drilled into the dirt. 20 years earlier, Steve Sax of the Los Angeles Dodgers had the same problem. In the early 1990s, New York Mets catcher Mackey Sasser couldn't throw the ball back to the pitcher.

Think about that: a professional athlete couldn't get his body to do what he wanted. An action that countless players are able to execute - with varying levels of success - was nearly impossible for this guy. I'll go back to my other examples (some of which might be a stretch): What if you were a brilliant mathematician, but couldn't write numbers down? What if you could compose brilliant prose in your mind, but struggled to type out a coherent sentence?

What goes on in a brain that doesn't allow someone to carry out an apparently simple, routine act that virtually everyone else takes for granted? What does that feel like?

Dad, it's Ian. I'm a Satanist.

At least, according to this quiz Evan posted on his blog, Orotundity.

If you haven't already been over to Evan's site - and if not, what the #$@% are you waiting for - here's a link to the quiz. See what religious label you should be tagged with.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to smear some fresh goat blood on my computer monitor. Oh, dinner with my family should be fun next week...

Thursday, March 10, 2005

Please! Enough with this shizzle

Is there a trend more played out than ending all of your words with "-izzle"? Seriously. Your dad might laugh if he saw it in a commercial right now. But if you weren't sure, it's official with this news: someone created a website called "Gizoogle."

Worse yet, this thing was created by someone young enough to know better; a 28-year-old web designer named John Beatty.

"I started the site a few weeks ago," Beatty told the Washington Post. "I was talking to my buddy on AOL Instant Messenger and he always talks in that izzle-speak, and I do it to my wife all the time and she hates it. I was thinking that it might be cool if there was a site that searched and all of the answers came up in that format."

Dude. Your wife and friends are the only ones who think that $#!t's funny anymore. Either that, or they were just too polite to tell you how lame you've become. Okay, I have to give him some credit. I couldn't have designed a site like that. I'll just make fun of it. But really - the only guy who should be ending all of his words with "-izzle" is Snoop Dogg and even he probably realizes at this point how over the whole thing is.

Now, I'm not going to deny that my sister and I have tried to get my mother, with her thick Malaysian accent, to say something like "fo-sheezie mah-neezie" after she's done complaining about our family, or refuse to get Chinese take-out for her until she calls it "beef lo mizzle," but c'mon - that was at least a year ago. We've matured.

Snoop, as a public service - please tell people to stop. No one's going to listen to me.

Do I really have to do that again?

I got an e-mail from Newmarket Films (I can't resist getting on those mailing lists) notifying me that The Passion of the Christ is being re-released in theaters this coming weekend. And we're not just getting rehashed Passion, we're getting a recut version! Apparently, this is being released as The Passion Recut. I'm not sure if Mel Gibson wanted me to laugh, but c'mon - didn't Jesus get cut quite enough in the first version? (Actually, my real reaction started with "Jesus, he didn't get...")

Also, there was a reassuring quote from Mel in the e-mail. "By softening some of its more wrenching aspects," he said, "I hope to make my film and its message of love available to a wider audience."

"Softening some of its more wrenching aspects"? So, what, that'll be a 15-minute film this time around? Maybe a seriously extended version of the scene where we see a hunky, overall-wearing Jesus as a carpenter? (Flex for the camera, Jim.) I'd love a scene with Jesus and that androgynous Satan going to a diner for coffee and having a face-to-face confrontation, like Pacino and DeNiro in Heat. ("If it's between you and some poor bastard whose wife you're gonna turn into a widow, brother, you are going down.")

And "message of love"? Jesus, it's too early in the morning to get into that...

Hey! You kids get outta there!

I think this qualifies as "getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar." Apparently, applicants to several business schools have been hacking the websites of those institutions to see if they were admitted. The instructions to hack the schools' websites were posted on a BusinessWeek Online message board. Those who were caught got the hammer.

Harvard rejected 119 applicants who hacked into its system. Soon thereafter, MIT did the same thing, smacking down 32 applicants. Carnegie Mellon wasn't taking that mess either. Stanford, Dartmouth, and Duke are contemplating lowering the boom too.

Serious overreaction or valid penalty? You make the call.

Remember, kids - hacking is bad. Oh, and stay in school (unless you caught hacking and were kicked out).

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

So I wasn't seeing things

Last night, while doing one last breeze through the channels before going to bed, I thought I noticed Dennis Miller doing part of the monologue on The Tonight Show, while Jay Leno stood off to the side in approval. I was going to stop and listen, but then I remembered that Miller bugs the $#!t out of me ever since he decided to become George W. Bush's personal court jester.

Turns out I wasn't hallucinating from flipping the channels too fast. Leno is sticking his tongue at the gag order imposed on him when he was subpoenaed to testify in the Michael Jackson trial. (And if you're like me and wondering why the hell is Jay Leno being asked to testify in this, it's because the mother of the alleged victim asked Leno, among other celebrities, for money.)

Temporary stunt or Leno covering his ass? Well, Roseanne Barr's doing part of the monologue tonight...

Here's your frequency, Kenneth

I'm not sure I've ever watched the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather. But I'll probably tune in (or, more specifically, tape) tonight's broadcast, since it's Rather's swan song as an evening news anchor. I love to imagine that Rather will blow a gasket and tell us what he really thinks, a la Howard Beale in the film Network, but he's probably too much of a professional for that. (Raging Red, by the way, did a much better job with the Rather-Beale comparison.)

Besides, Rather might be too busy dusting footprints off his ass. I don't know how many of you caught this (or cared about it), but Rather's predecessor, Walter Cronkite, the grand old patriarch of network news, has been killing him in the media over the past week.

First, in the New Yorker, he said Rather was playing a role more than actually delivering the news. (Sorry, I can't find a link to the article.) Then Cronkite told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that the CBS Evening News might not be entrenched in third place behind NBC and ABC if Rather had been replaced by Bob Schieffer (now Rather's temporary replacement) years ago.

"So you would have been happier if Bob Schieffer would have replaced Dan Rather a while ago?" Blitzer asked.

"I would have thought so," Cronkite responded. "Certainly, if not Bob someone else."

"It surprised quite a few people at CBS and elsewhere," he continued, "that, without being able to pull up the ratings beyond third in a three-man field, that they tolerated his being there for so long."

Ouch, babe. Is Cronkite still sore about allegedly being pushed out the door by Rather when he took over the CBS anchor chair? My magic 8-ball says "all signs point to yes."

Addendum (7: 30 pm): In Tom Shales' Washington Post TV column today, one of Rather's buddies (anonymously) referred to Cronkite as "a codgerly old ass," who "stayed alive just so he could see this moment." Aw, snap!

Your blog's about what... ?

One of the great things about "the blogosphere" is the vast variety of subjects people choose to write about. It's fascinating (and sometimes baffling) to see what's on people's minds. Clicking that "NEXT BLOG" button at the top right corner of the screen can take you to a bunch of different places (and languages). Having said that, there are a few blogs that make me scratch my head.

For instance, there's Shaving Info. Hey, a public service sharing information on how to get the closest shave. Interesting. Well, except the "unisex shaving portal" has several posts concerning the proper shaving of one's naughty regions. I don't think Gillette sponsors this blog.

Actually, this guy - if it's just one person - has a bunch of these types of blogs. It's like sifting through your junk mail all over again:

Washing Machine - For those who have reached the point in life when you can purchase your own washer and dryer. You know you're an adult when... (And nothing kinky. I haven't found that "best spin cycle" entry.)

Credit Cards Online - As if you weren't already deluged with applications and bills, and worried about debt.

Pine Furniture - Whoa, cowboy. Let me age 10 years, get married, and give up my Saturday mornings and afternoons first, okay?

Okay, I've given this all too much time and publicity. But if you find this exciting, here's one about handling debt, and another about talent development resources. Carry on with your day.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Remember, you're in public

▪ A guy next to me last week in class spilled some coffee on the floor. Not much, just a couple of sips. We were toward the back of the room, so not many people noticed. (I probably noticed more than I should've because I was so jonesin' for a caffeine fix at that point in the morning that I briefly - very briefly - considered slurping that puddle off the floor. But I digress.)

Does this dude leave the puddle be, hoping it will evaporate? No, he's more considerate than that. First, he tries to disperse it with his shoe, but rubber soles aren't known for their liquid-soaking properties, are they? Ah, but you know what is? Denim! He rolls his jeans down over his heel and uses his pants to wipe up the coffee. Ingenious? Perhaps. Thoughtful? Almost certainly. But you wouldn't see too many women pulling that move, would you?

▪ While walking the streets of Iowa City the other day (well, strutting really - down the sidewalks in Tony Manero style; it's my natural walk), I noticed a couple nuzzing in the corner outside the main library. C'mon kids, get a room! The woman - who was wearing a retina-burning pink jacket - stood on her tip-toes, trying to get intimate to her guy friend. But as I got closer, it became apparent that she wasn't inching up for a kiss. No, she was in the guy's face, SCREAMING.

"F@#$ you, you god&#$% @$hole! Get the F@#$ away from me! No! No! F@#$ you! I could rip your F@#$ing head off! I hate you!" (And I ain't paraphrasin'.)

If the guy could've crawled up the wall, a la Spider-Man, to get the hell away from her, he would've. I think he was actually trying. He was also holding out his hand in that "Please put the gun down, no one has to get hurt" fashion. But he seemed genuinely speechless. Either that, or I couldn't hear him over the shrieking.

And then there's me, trying to walk along like I'm minding my own business and can't see (or hear) what's happening, yet slowing down enough so I can catch some of the drama. You know, I don't think they noticed me eavesdropping. I'm that smooth.

▪ On the bus early one morning, one of my neighbors decides to eat his breakfast during the ride in. No big deal, right? Who hasn't nibbled on a granola bar or donut through a morning commute? Except this guy was eating rice - and some extremely malodorous fish - out of a Tupperware container. And he was using chopsticks! I tried not to stare (I was holding my newspaper over my mouth and nose), but the dude's skill was admirable. He didn't spill one grain of rice - let alone a hunk of smelly fish - over any bumps or potholes, nor when the bus came to a stop. And he didn't stab a chopstick through his lip or cheek either.

Could you put up those "Gates" again?

Here's a good laugh to read with your morning coffee (after you visit The G-Man News Stand, of course). Peter Mehlman, whose work many of you may know from "Seinfeld," has a hilarious essay in today's New York Times, in which he asks the city of New York to please restore "The Gates" in Central Park, because he'll be visiting from Los Angeles. A taste for you:

"I'm writing to let the city of New York know that I'll be coming into town in a few weeks and would greatly appreciate it if you would put "The Gates" back up. Friends and family back in the city told me it was 'really something.'"

I wish I could find a link to another Mehlman piece, titled "Mandela Was Late." It's about Nelson Mandela's parole officer and originally ran in Esquire magazine. Unfortunately, all the links I found on Google want you to register before accessing the article. Rats. I guess you'll have to trust me when I say it's hilarious. Or stop at your local library. Or go through the extreme inconvenience of registering with Sorry.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Wherefore art thou, Axl?

I don't know how many other Guns 'N Roses fans would be reading this (According to Mis Hooz, there are none), but if you once rocked out to "Welcome to the Jungle" or "Sweet Child o' Mine," you might find this article by Jeff Leeds' interesting. It's titled "The Most Expensive Album Never Made," and details the long, expensive, and futile effort of Axl Rose to record the next Guns 'N Roses album, "Chinese Democracy."

(And if you bring this up in conversation, don't forget to mention Guns 'N Roses before you say the words "chinese democracy." Otherwise, you might find yourself in an entirely different discussion. Just thought I'd pass that nugget of wisdom along.)

Unfortunately, if you're already familiar with the story, Leeds' piece doesn't reveal any new information. Axl Rose has alienated at least a half-dozen musicians and producers, and wasted a ton of money, trying to get this album - whatever the hell it is, at this point - just right. He seems paralyzed by perfectionism, ignoring that plenty of fans would probably snap up whatever was released.

Or maybe Axl knows, deep down, that he no longer has the band fans remember. And this new thing he tried just wouldn't match up to the memories of what seemed like a truly great rock 'n roll band back in the early '90s. Maybe he's smart, not crazy. But we'll probably never know.

What the #$@% is going on?

It was 74 degrees in Iowa City yesterday. 74 degrees on March 6. Easily a record-high temperature. So in the midwest (or east, etc.), you know what that meant: lots of people wearing shorts, even though it wasn't really quite that warm. It just felt like summer after weeks of 30-degree weather. Not only did I have to wear my sunglasses because it was delightfully sunny yesterday, but there were many, many ghostly-white legs exposing themselves. (Except for all the people who have their pre-Spring Break "base tans.") I'm sure there were plenty of gnarly, hairy toes wearing flip-flops and sandals before their time, too. Get out those nail clippers and emery boards, people.

This has to be a sign of something crazy going on. It's March. We should still be ankle-deep in snow - especially in Iowa, where the winters are traditionally harsh. I don't hate the winters as much as some people. To me, they're a sign of the natural order of things. If it's still cold and snowing when it's supposed to be, then things are proceeding as they should. But yesterday threw that all out of whack. I couldn't enjoy the weather. Not just because I knew I should stay inside and get some work done. But because there has to be payback for this at some point. There can't just be a 74-degree day in March, followed by things going back to normal. Ripples are coming. I can feel it.

All the local meterologists were wearing $#!@-eating grins on the news Saturday night, knowing that the people would love them for at least one day. (Also behind those grins, I'm sure, was a healthy amount of "Christ, I'd better get this right" fear.) Those same weekend weatherpeople, however, were sheepish and glum last night as they had to break the news that temperatures would be sliding back down to the 30s today. Most tried to laugh it off. "Can you believe this stuff? Hey, be happy - you got 74 degrees today." Those smiles were hiding something, though. What do they know that they're not telling us? What information are those super-duper Doppler radar, Skycast-3000-bots really giving them? And please just tell us it'll be a better movie than The Day After Tomorrow.